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For a park this tiny, just 440 kilometres square, Matobo Hills sure does squeeze a lot in. The landscape of spectacular granite kopjes and giant whalebacks have been sculpted and shaped over time by the elements, rock faces have been used as a canvas, portraying incredible art from bushmen and times of war and peace between races and artefacts have been found to be over 35,000 years old on archaeological digs.
The Matobo Hills National Park forms the core of the Matobo or Matopos Hills region of approximately 3,100 kilometres in total, which is located less than 30 minutes south of the city of Bulawayo. Jutting out between the forested valleys, the large granite boulders and whale back rock formations create some almost impossible looking sights, where round boulders balance at awkward angles above the plains of the park, creating eerie silhouettes and natural shelters.
San Bushmen first lived in the hills of the national park around 2,000 years ago and their rock paintings, clay ovens and historical artefacts provide an insight into their indigenous culture. It is also a spiritual place, with shrines and sacred areas still used today by the Shona and people of Southern Africa. Indeed, the site was fought over in 1893 by the Ndebele African group who considered the site as sacred, where the rain shrine of the god of their ancestors Mwari is found. As such the area plays a significant role in the community and its local tradition, making a village visit well worth your time whilst you are here.
The park has sections earmarked as a protected area for game, including a healthy number of the endangered black rhino and also white rhino, but the area is also one of Zimbabwe’s most intriguing wildlife sanctuaries with a variety of antelope species including kudu, sable and eland, as well as baboon and a large population of leopard. Keen birders should keep their eyes peeled for a host of hawks, falcons and other raptors.
In addition the recreational are includes World’s view , a scenic viewpoint and the burial of Cecil John Rhodes .The wildlife includes leopards both black rhinos and white rhinos. The park overlooks Maleme Dam where there are excellent camping and picnic spots.
The Matobo Hills are composed entirely of granite, making up the Matopos Batholith. The granite weathers into fantastic shapes, such as the balancing rocks known as Mother and Child Kopje. Between the granite mountains, narrow valleys form. These are often swampy valleys known as dambos or vleis, due to runoff from the whaleback mountains. These valleys form the headwaters of the Maleme, Mpopoma and Mtsheleli rivers, and the source of the Thuli River is just east of the park
The national park is the oldest in Zimbabwe, established in 1926 as Rhodes Matopos National Park, a bequest from Cecil Rhodes. The original park borders extended well to the south and east of the current park. These areas were redesignated for settlement as part of a compromise between the colonial authorities and the local people, creating the Khumalo and Matobo Communal Lands. The park area then increased with the acquisition of World’s View and Hazelside farms to the north.
The current name Matobo reflects the correct vernacular pronunciation of the area. The Matobo Hills were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. The area “exhibits a profusion of distinctive rock landforms rising above the granite shield that covers much of Zimbabwe”